Thirteen men nailed to crosses in the Philippines

With macabre scenes of self-flagellation and live crucifixion, a normally quiet Philippines village on Friday witnessed a bloody spectacle as it staged its own Passion of the Christ.

The annual Good Friday ritual at Cutud, 70km north of Manila, attracts thousands of tourists and Filipinos for what is seen as the ultimate atonement for Easter—despite criticism from the Catholic Church.

This year, the ritual was played out as it has been for decades with young men whipping their bloodied backs as 13 others were crucified on a hill under early afternoon heat.

“It has everything to do with the pain Christ suffered in his final hours,” said one organiser.

The Philippines is Asia’s only bastion of Catholicism, with about 80% of its 82-million population belonging to the unique local brand of the faith.

Friday’s ritual began around midmorning with dozens of barefoot young men, stripped to the waist, parading up and down Cutud’s dusty main street, their flayed backs glistening in the sun.

As the men, masked and wearing garlands, begin their procession, organisers cut their backs with glass embedded in a wooden paddle.

No one mentions Aids as the organiser walks from back to back cutting and tearing into brown flesh.

Outside the local church they lay face down on the dusty road, kneeling and making the sign of the cross, before moving on again as the bamboo tips of their whips bounce across their backs.

Onlookers, cars and street vendors are splattered with blood as they make their way up the street to the crucifixion site.

Local resident Ray Castro (61) said his seven sons had all done the “beating.”

His son Ray Junior, who had just returned from Israel where he is employed as healthcare worker, took part in the morning ritual.

None of his sons have been crucified. “Self-beating is atonement enough,” he said.

He said his son would return to the family house, his back flayed, but would not seek medical assistance.

“The best treatment is a shower and to lay down flat on your back to close the wounds,” Castro said.

By noon thousands gathered on an old disused paddy field where three crosses were erected on a dirt hill.

Before the crucifixions took place, a group of villagers on horseback dressed as Roman centurions arrested an actor playing Jesus Christ, who was then condemned to the cross by a local Pontius Pilate signalling the start of 13 crucifixions.

On the hill where those preparing to be crucified were gathered, Romelito Vergara (38) a street vendor from the nearby province of Pampanga, said he was hoping to repeat an earlier ceremony which cured him of polio.

“By the time I was 20 I could not walk,“he said. “I prayed to God to help me walk again.
I was crucified for the first time when I was 27 and now I am walking again.”

Nearby, carpenter Arnel Sangalong (41) who was being crucified for the ninth time, stretched his arms out along a wooden cross, his face grimacing as the five-inch stainless steel nails were driven into his hands.

As the cross was fitted into place, nails were driven in to his feet.

Each crucifixion lasts an agonising handful of minutes, but for those like Sangalong and Vergara it is worth it to fulfill their pledge to God. - Sapa-AFP